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Turkey drifting from the West towards Russia?

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In the years of the Cold War, Turkey positioned itself at the vanguard of the free, i.e. Western world, confronting the so-called “evil empire”. Many Turks, especially in the hinterland, truly believed that the words “communism” and “terrorism” meant the same, while newspapers wrote about the “oppressed” status of millions of Turks in the USSR. But everything changed at the end of the 20th century. The 1990s became a period of unprecedented growth in bilateral trade, as Turkish contractors rushed to tap into Russian expanses by erecting a variety of buildings of disputable architectural value. The collapse of the USSR gave rise to expectations of the arrival of a “Turkic century” and a “Turkic world from the Adriatic to the Great Wall of China.” According to many in Turkey, the Turkic-speaking people living in Russia were to occupy a place in this world too.

Gradually, the nationalist euphoria evaporated, and since the early 2000s, with the strengthening of the Russian statehood, Turkey has been building relations with Russia on the principles of practical gain and respect for the interests of its partner. Fortunately, moderate Muslim realists from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in 2002.

During this period, Ankara’s foreign policy agenda underwent substantial changes. The AKP program proclaimed a new balance of strength and new foreign policy interests, although relations with the EU, NATO and the United States were still a priority. Nevertheless, the document emphasized the need to form friendly relations with Russia in the Central Asian and Caucasian regions and paid a lot of attention to relations with countries of Central Asia and the Middle East.

The current foreign policy doctrine has become multifaceted in contrast to Ataturk’s wish in favor of the country’s strategic orientation to the West. The years-long desire to integrate into the EU has faded into the background, as the main task now was to fulfil the idea of turning the country into a self-sufficient center of attraction by creating a powerful economy, addressing domestic political problems (primarily the Kurdish issue, which is not articulated but implied) and pursuing a constructive foreign policy. In the long run, the task was to turn Turkey into a world power. Simultaneously, there came a refusal to portray the country as a “bridge” between the East and the West – this definition was adopted by Turgut Ozal, the “architect of new Turkey”, in the 1980s. According to the current leadership, the image of a bridge secured for Turkey the status of a secondary player in international relations. Now the country appears to be a “central state” located in the heart of Eurasia and boasting multiple identities: after all, it belongs to both Europe and Asia, spreading to the Balkan, Caucasus, Middle East and Mediterranean regions. This dictates the need to pursue a multi-faceted foreign policy which does not provide for privileged relations with anyone.

In essence, these were the ideas of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs (2009-2014) and Prime Minister (2014-2016) of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu, which he put forward in 2001 in the monograph “Strategic Depth”.

Davutoglu believed that by joining NATO, Turkey consented to play the role of a peripheral country in the Western world, having shortened the list of its interests within its close circle. Even so, the West denied Turkey integration, because it saw Ankara as a centuries-old rival. In this regard, the Davutoglu concept focuses on the link between present-day politics and the historical legacy of the Ottoman Empire. His “neo-Ottomanism” implied reconstruction of a new form of empire on a qualitatively different level, which is not so much as direct integration of countries that once belonged to the Ottoman state, as rather the strengthening of its economic, cultural and political influence throughout Pax Ottomana.

Another fundamental idea proclaimed by the then university professor was the principle of “zero problems with neighbors”, which implies the highest possible level of political and economic cooperation with neighboring states. Among these, in his opinion, were countries that are not directly bordering Turkey, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

Incidentally, the later problems in relations with Yerevan, Athens, Nicosia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Riyadh, and to some extent, with Baghdad, demonstrated the complexity of the “zero problems” paradigm, in contrast to the principle of neo-Ottomanism, which is excluded from Ankara’s foreign policy vocabulary but is still being translated into life.

Whatever the case, it can be assumed that present-day Turkey sees itself as a multi-regional leader but without any foreign policy preferences.

In the course of the implementation of this policy, it turned out that for pursuing “active and multi-faceted” policy the country lacked economic and political resources. This became particularly visible in the Syrian direction. Thus, cooperatioin with Russia, based on a powerful economic foundation, became for Ankara not just a choice, but a need. Moreover, it is obvious that the priorities were set before the Syrian crisis: back in 2010, Ahmet Davutoglu wrote in an article for “Russia in Global Affairs”: “We consider Russia an invaluable partner, an important world power and a key player in terms of regional cooperation. I would like to emphasize that further development of cooperation based on common interest of the two parties, mutual trust and transparency is one of the top priorities of our foreign policy … We are set on addressing the same international problems, we understand each other and try to bypass “sore points” which could provoke irritation. We would like to continue a sincere and open dialogue with Russia on further development of our region. ”Notably, political rapprochement was facilitated by the similarity of the national mentalities of the two countries or, rather, by their difference from the “western” mentality.

The “axial time” in Russian-Turkish relations was the period 2015-2016. While NATO allies chose to keep aloof following the incident with the Russian plane, Moscow chose to support Ankara, by not only restoring the old relations, but also by developing them to the level of a truly strategic partnership. Soon afterwards came an attempt of a military coup, which almost cost the Turkish leader his life. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suspecting that Washington was doing more than just watching the military insurgency from the outside, appreciated the sincere and constructive position of the Russian leadership.

At present, bilateral cooperation hinges on active trade and economic relations. Projects such as Akkuyu NPP and Turkish Stream have all the potential to link the two countries’ economies for years ahead. Moreover, they have a political component.

Statements that are often heard in the Turkish expert community maintain that both countries pursue their own national interests, which coincide but only partially. This is true. Some experts also say that where the interests coincide, Turkey and Russia act together, where they clash, both countries “isolate” each other, trying not to spoil relations. Besides, Turkey is trying to use the United States as a counterweight to Russia and vice versa.

In big politics, there are no simple solutions, and for Ankara multi-facetedness remains a challenge. Therefore, there is no need to equate the trend towards Turkey’s distancing itself from the West with a drift only towards Moscow.

The main thing to be taken into consideration is that Russia’s role in the entire spectrum of Turkish foreign policy priorioties is acquiring ever more importance. Both countries are demonstrating the ability to compromise even on issues of particular concern, such as the situation in Idlib. Even though many Western analysts view the Russian-Turkish rapprochement as situational and time-serving, Russia is demonstrating ever more trustworthiness, if not as an absolute ally, then as a reliable partner in all areas. And the fact that cooperation with Russia is economically beneficial becomes for Turkey a reality perceived through experience. From our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

The secret behind Trump’s moves in eastern Deir ez-Zur

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Trump’s desire for Syrian oil has led observers to consider it as the beginning of occupying oil wells in other countries, including Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states.

The obsession of the U.S. president with money and oil is obvious for everyone and that is why U.S. military commanders have used this temptation by Trump to persuade him to keep some troops in Syria.

On October 28, Trump said, “We are keeping the oil — remember that. Forty-five million dollars a month?  We have secured the oil”.

Last week, news sources reported that the U.S. president has agreed to develop military missions to protect oilfields in eastern Syria.

The Turkish Anadolu Agency reported that the U.S. has established a new military base in the oil-rich parts of Deir ez-Zur in Syria.

In this regard, Trump announced the settlement of some U.S. companies in Syria’s east to invest in and exploit oilfields. It was a move that drew Russian backlash.

Russian opposition to Trump’s oil ambitions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement in late October that the Syrian oil is the focus of U.S. attention. In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Lavrov said it was important to refrain from “steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov also said, “This, what Washington is doing now — capturing and maintaining control through the use of arms over oil fields in eastern Syria — that is, to put it simply, international, state-sponsored banditry,” DW reported on October 26.

Konashenkov said tank trucks guarded by U.S. military servicemen and private military companies smuggle oil from fields in eastern Syria to other countries.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin also pointed to U.S. efforts to reinforce its presence in Syrian oil-rich lands, calling it an illegal act by Washington. Vershinin also said that Moscow will never accept the policy that the U.S. is pursuing in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry in recent weeks has also released satellite images of some areas in Syria showing that U.S. troops have created security guard to smuggle Syria’s oil. Earlier, images of eastern Syria were released documenting oil trucks were traveling across Syria-Turkey borders, an action which reveals the goals of those countries which support terrorism in Syria.

 Syria’s oil reserves

In terms of oil reserves, Syria is in 32nd place after Malaysia and ahead of Argentina, with 2,500,000,000 barrels. Syria’s known oil reserves are mainly in the eastern part of the country in Deir ez-Zor, the second largest Syrian province after Homs. The rest of reserves are in other provinces such as Hama, Ar Raqqah and Homs.

Before the beginning of civil war in 2011, Syria was extracting 385,000 barrels of light crude oil with an approximate value of €3 billion, which were being transferred to Homs via pipeline. 89,000 barrels of the extracted oil were being refined and used for domestic uses. The rest was being exported through port of Baniyas.

Lebanon has uncovered some oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Syria can also explore some of these reserves as it has long coasts along the Mediterranean if it invests in its territorial waters.  

U.S. actions in eastern Euphrates

Now that the defeat of terrorists is clear to everyone, the U.S. is seeking to create an economic crisis in Syria by using oil as a tool against Damascus. This is the reason why it is seizing the country’s oil reserves and also pressures Damascus to accept Washington’s conditions.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

Middle Eastern protests: A tug of war over who has the longer breath

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Mass anti-government protests in several Arab countries are turning into competitions to determine who has the longer breath, the protesters or the government.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, countries in which the leader was either forced to resign or has agreed to step down, authorities appear to be dragging their feet on handovers of power or agreed transitional power sharing arrangements in the hope that protesters, determined to hold on to their street power until a political transition process is firmly in place, either lose their momentum or are racked by internal differences.

So far, protesters are holding their ground, having learnt the lesson that their achievements are likely to be rolled back if they vacate the street before having cemented an agreement on the rules of the transitional game and process.

Algerians remain on the streets, seven months after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to step down, in demand of a complete change of the political system.

Scores of recent arrests on charges that include “harming national unity” and “undermining the morale of the army” have failed to deter Algerians who refuse to accept the military’s proposed December 12 date for elections.

Lebanon enters its second months of protests with the government going through the motions but ultimately failing to respond to demands for a technocratic government, a new non-sectarian electoral law and early elections.

An effort to replace prime minister Saad Hariri with another member of the elite, Mohammad Safadi, a billionaire businessman and former finance minister, was rejected by the protesters.

We are staying here. We don’t know how long – maybe one or two months or one or two years. Maybe it will take 10 years to get the state we are dreaming of, but everything starts with a first step.” said filmmaker Perla Joe Maalouli.

Weeks after agreeing to resign in response to popular pressure, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mehdi appears to be increasingly firm in his saddle.

Much like what prompted US President George H.W.. Bush to first call in 1991 for a popular revolt against Saddam Hussein and then give the Iraqi strongman the tools to crush the uprising, Mr. Mehdi is holding on to power in the absence of a credible candidate acceptable to the political elite to replace him.

Mr. Mehdi’s position is strengthened by the fact that neither the United States nor Iran wants a power vacuum to emerge in Baghdad.

Backtracking on Mr. Mehdi’s resignation and refraining from appointing a prime minister who credibly holds out the promise of real change is likely to harden the battle lines between the protesters and the government.

The tugs of war highlight the pitfalls protesters and governments need to manoeuvre in what amounts to a complex game with governments seeking to pacify demonstrators by seemingly entertaining their demands yet plotting to maintain fundamental political structures that anti-government activists want to uproot.

The risk of a tug of war is that protests turn violent as happened in Hong Kong or in Lebanon where cars of parliamentarians were attacked as they drove this week towards the assembly.

Meeting protesters’ demands and aspirations that drive the demonstrations and figure across the Middle East and North Africa, irrespective of whether grievances have spilled into streets, is what makes economic and social reform tricky business for the region’s autocrats.

Its where what is needed for sustainable reforms bounces up against ever more repressive security states intent on exercising increasingly tight control.

Sustainable reform requires capable and effective institutions rather than bloated, bureaucratic job banks and decentralisation with greater authorities granted to municipalities and regions.

Altering social contracts by introducing or increasing taxes, reducing subsidies for basic goods and narrowing opportunities for government employment will have to be buffered by greater transparency that provides the public insight into how the government ensures that it benefits from the still evolving new social contract.

To many protesters, Sudan has validated protesters’ resolve to retain street power until transitional arrangements are put in place.

It took five months after the toppling of president Omar al-Bashir and a short-lived security force crackdown in which some 100 people were killed before the military, the protesters and political groups agreed and put in place a transitional power-sharing process.

The process involved the creation of a sovereign council made up of civilians and military officers that is governing the country and managing its democratic transition.

Even so, transitional experiences have yet to prove their mettle. Protesters may have learnt lessons from the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Yet, this time round, protesters lack the broad-based international empathy that 2011 uprisings enjoyed and are up against more than domestic forces backed by conservative Gulf states.

Powers like Russia and China make no bones about their rejection of protest as an expression of popular political will.

So has Iran that has much at stake in Iraq and Lebanon, countries where anti-sectarian sentiment is strong among protesters, even if the Islamic republic was born in one of the 20th century’s epic popular revolts and is confronting protests of its own against fuel price hikes.

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Iran’s next parliamentary election hinges on economic problems, US sanctions effective

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It seems any faction focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections.

The eleventh elections of the Islamic Parliament in Iran will be on Feb 21, 2020 across the country. Seyed Salaman Samani spokesman of Interior Ministry said in an interview that has published on the official website of the ministry.

About 4 months have remained to the elections, but the politicians and parties have started to organize their campaigns and planning for victory.

The current parliament was formed from 41 percent Reformers and Moderates, 29 percent Principlists, 28 percent Independents and 2 percent Minorities, according to the ISNA News Agency.

In Tehran, capital of the country, all seats were gained by the Reformers, but some important cities such as Mashhad as the second city in the country, the Principlists were decisive winners.

But the majority of people and political activists are serious dissatisfactions concerning the function of the parliament, even some experts have emphasized on the famous slogan that says: “Reformer, Principlist, the story is over.”

This situation has formed, while Iran`s Parliament has been under control between two parties in the past years. So, some experts seek up the third faction for improving the country’s position, but so far the third faction has had not a leader and specific structure.

Due to the Reformers supporting of President Hassan Rouhani in the last presidential elections and lack of his rhetoric realization, the position of the Reformers has weakened increasingly. For example, Rouhani said during the contests of the presidential elections about 2 years ago in Iran television that If Iranians reelect me, all sanctions even non-nuclear sanctions will be lifted. But now, the sanctions against Iran have increased and the economic situation of the people has hurt extremely.

But recently, many celebrities of Iran have regretted concerning supporting Rouhani like Ali Karimi the former football player and Reza Sadeghi the famous singer, they demonstrated their regret on social media. So, some suggested that the victory of Principlists in the elections is certain.

“The Principlists need not do anything; they are comfortably the winner of the next parliamentary elections.” Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian academic reformist said in an interview with Shargh Newspaper.

“We have no chance for parliamentary elections and next presidential elections unless a miracle happens,” he added.

The Iranian Principlists are closer to Iran`s supreme leader and guard corps than the Reformers. A political face in the right-wing like, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf with the slogans “New Parliament ” and “Neo-Principlism ” has recalled young people to receive their ability to provide the elections list. Ghalibaf launched his third presidential campaign for the Iranian presidency on April 15, 2017, but on May 15, 2017, Ghalibaf withdrew, but he supported Ebrahim Raisi who is the current chief of Iran`s judiciary.

Another face is the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Some experts say Ahmadinezhad has a great plan for the next elections but so far he has not spoken about it. Recently he criticized toughly from the government of Rouhani and Iran’s Judiciary. Recently, some of his close activists arrested by Iran’s Judiciary, and they are in Evin Prison now. Some analyzers say Ahmadinezhad has high popularity, just as the people have welcomed warmly lately on his travels across the country.

JAMNA or “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces” is another chance for Principlists in the next elections. JAMNA founded in late 2016 by ten figures from different spectrum of conservative factions, in the end, the party elected Ebrahim Raisi as a candidate for the presidential election but Raeisi defeated.

But Reformers are not hopeless, Mohammad Khatami as the leader of the Reformers, who served as the fifth President of Iran from 1997 to 2005 has said statements recently. He has wanted from the government to qualify the Reformers candidates for participation in the political event.

One of the Reformer’s big problems in the history of Iran `s elections has been the disqualification by the Guardian Council. According to Iran constitution, all candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections, as well as candidates for the Assembly of Experts, have to be qualified by the Guardian Council to run in the elections.

Some Reformers in reformist newspapers state that they will take part in the parliament elections on this condition the majority of Reformers’ candidates will be qualified by the Guardian Council.

Some analysts said the Iran parliament has not enough power in order to improve the country’s situation. Just as the parliament has approved the bill of “United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” by a 126 vote in last year, but the Guardian Council has disagreed with it and its fate shall determine by Expediency Discernment Council, while the government has frequently emphasized on the bill. The government believes the approving the bill will cause to reducing the bans about the economic transaction with the world.

Generally, Iran`s economic position is very critical currently, tough sanctions by Trump administration and the defeat of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) has caused that Iranians to be under serious problems. The stuff prices and inflation are at the highest level since Iran`s revolution in 1979. So, it seems any faction that focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections. Also, the more important issue is the participation rate of people. If dissatisfactions about economic problems will be continued, hope and joy between people would reduce the rate of Participation in the next elections. Some experts say based on experiences in Iran, when the rate of participation in the elections is reduced, the Principlists has a more chance for the victory, because the gray spectrum that is not black or white, usually has a willing to the Reformers. the spectrum includes younger people even teenagers in the urban society.

Some political observers say the gray spectrum has not very willing to participate in the next elections. Some suggested that the future situation, especially in the economic field is very important to make the willingness about the gray spectrum to participate.

Analysts said the winner of the presidential elections 2 years later is the winner of the parliamentary elections on Feb 21, 2020. The majority of the next parliament will affect the political space across the country. This procedure in Iran has precedent. Like the victory of the Reformers in the last parliamentary elections that it caused the Rouhani victory about 2 years ago.

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